Aug. 25, 2008
Opening statement: There's a lot of excitement for the opener this weekend and for a lot of different reasons. Probably the biggest reason is that there are a lot of new players, young guys who will be running in that stadium for the first time in their lives to play at The University of Texas. It's their life's dream for them and you can just imagine the excitement that those guys will have for their first game. It's a moment they will remember for their rest of their lives, and I know our fans look forward to seeing those guys play.
Also, the north end zone is completed and it is just fabulous. The setting will be as good as any in college football and to my knowledge, it will be the largest crowd to ever see a football game in the state of Texas and possibly the southwest of the United States. It will be a memorable moment for all of us and something that will go down in history.
We are also very excited that Vince [Young] will be back for the honoring of his retired jersey during pre-game. All of the names of the retired jerseys are now in the north end zone and they will be there forever. Also, all of the Southwest Conference Championship dates have been put up in the north end, so that will be fun for all of those guys who played in those Southwest Conference Championships. Bobby Layne and Tommy Nobis, two of our other great players, will be honored at a later date.
I think that everyone is excited about Florida Atlantic. Howard Schnellenberger, who has a real history, is a professional and college football coach. He obviously coached at Oklahoma for a year and he did a great job up at Louisville. He was an assistant coach to Coach [Don] Shula that won 17 games for the Miami Dolphins and the Super Bowl. He then came back and won a national championship with Miami. In 2003, he won 11 games at Florida Atlantic. In 2004, they won nine and last year they won eight and won the Sunbelt Conference. They didn't just show up last year. They've done a good job in their eight years with the program, and he has done an amazing job.
Our team motto will be, "consistently good to be great," because we felt like we've got to play better each week. We've had a lot of great games, and most of them have been great games, but when we haven't played well for whatever reason, we've got to figure that out. We've got enough depth and we've got to have great energy and passion every time that we go out there. We mean this for off the field as well. We mean that you have to be consistently good to be great in the classroom and it carries over to our practice field and the games on Saturday.
We will finalize our game plans by Wednesday. A lot of times you put your game plans in for the last week, you look at them over the weekend and realize you have put too much in. It's the same with the depth chart. We'll announce the depth chart today, but the depth chart will continued to be evaluated every day and some of the decisions will be made on Thursday because we will not practice after Thursday. Some of the decisions, it looks like, may come down to pre-game, especially with the kickers and the punters.
Will [Muschamp] will call the defenses and Greg [Davis] will call the offenses. One of the things that is key when you have new staff members, especially with Will calling defenses, is that all of the coaches need to keep their mouths shut when the plays are being called on the phone during the ball game. Then after the series is over, you have time to discuss it for the next series. But Will and Greg will be making those decisions during the ball game, and I do have the right to step in, but I seldom do, because they work so hard on it. So it's an opportunity for them to step up and go with what the staff decided on both sides of the ball during the week. Greg will be upstairs in the press box and the other offensive coaches will be on the boundary. Oscar Giles will be upstairs for the defense. So those two will be upstairs and everybody else will be downstairs.
Another thing that is really unique about opening ball games is that they are usually determined by turnovers and kicking game mistakes. The other thing that is really key is that you have so many new personnel, especially on the kicking teams. It will also be 98 degrees outside, so you have to make sure that if there is an injury that occurs during the game, and it takes someone out of the game, that you've got to get that correspondence to all of your coaches so you don't get a penalty for having too few players on the field or too many. The substitution plan is the last thing on the agenda for this week and it is something that we talk about all week. We don't reveal it and we don't even talk to the kids about it because it may change. If you tell a guy that he is going to play in the second series and he doesn't, then all of a sudden, you become a liar. But it may be because something changed during the game that would keep you from wanting him to go in at that time.
For our fans that don't know a lot about Florida Atlantic, it is in Boca Raton, Fla., there are 26,000 students and they are in the Sun Belt Conference. They won that conference last year. Their colors are red and blue. They did win eight games last year and beat Memphis soundly in the New Orleans Bowl, which is the bowl between a Conference USA team and the Sun Belt champion. Rusty Smith is their quarterback, and Coach Schnellenberger, who is one of the great quarterback coaches of all time, compares Rusty to Bernie Kozar. This young man is a junior and he threw for 3,688 yards last year with 32 touchdowns and only nine interceptions. He completed about 59 percent of his passes and only had 14 sacks. Those are the stats of a great player. His leading receiver is also a junior named Cortez Gent. He caught 1,082 yards and nine touchdown passes. He also caught about 17 yards per catch and he definitely is a big play threat. These guys averaged about 30 points per game and 400 yards of offense per game. They've got eight seniors on defense and they are very aggressive. In fact, their offensive coordinator is Gary Nord, who has been the long time offensive coordinator of Coach Schnellenberger. As I said, Coach Schnellenberger coached for the Miami Dolphins and he won the National Championship at the University of Miami in 1983. At Louisville, he did such a great job that they built a new stadium. In fact, Texas played them a couple of times. He is also 5-0 in bowl games and he actually upset Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl one year.
As we continue to look at our depth chart, the most important thing we do is to make sure we get the right players on the field and then figure out what we feature with each one of them. That is constantly changing and you have to develop it by looking at them in practice, but then you have factor in some changes that happen during a ball game. So we're constantly asking our coaches who they think their best player is at their position, and the best players on their side of the ball. That is a constant issue with us, so it is like a draft. We do it at least three or four times a year. We did it Friday to make sure that we're looking at the right players to play this weekend.
Ishie Oduegwu had a shoulder operation this morning. His shoulder had been bothering him some, so he decided to fix it. He is not going to play this weekend, but there really is no timetable for his return.
There are 10 true freshmen that are listed on this depth chart with a possibility to play this weekend. That doesn't mean they will play, but that means they practiced in preparation to play. That also doesn't mean that the ones that aren't on this list won't have a chance to play because that's day-to-day, and obviously, with injuries and the way they come along, that might change if it needs to.
On if he's ever come into a season with so many questions marks at defensive back: No. You'd love to play older defensive backs. But these guys are really talented and we're really excited about watching them. It's interesting that the best thing that Florida Atlantic does is throwing the ball. They throw it as well as anyone in the country, and the thing we've had the most trouble with is stopping the pass. So it will be a great opener for us that will give us a test to see where we are. It will challenge Will and Duane [Akina] as they're looking at their schemes. But these guys are really talented. They're very much like the bunch we lost that won the National Championship and we played them when they were young. Michael Huff, Cedric Griffin, all of those guys were red-shirted freshmen when they played. We played Michael Griffin as a true freshman. So, it's back to where we were four or five years ago, and sometimes you have all of those defensive backs that play for four years and it's hard to catch up. So right now, we're catching back up. We're excited about it, but it's obviously a concern. It's only a concern because they haven't been out there, and we're going to need our fans to really help us because we are probably going to give us some plays.
On the depth of the defensive line helping out the secondary: We need more pass rush out of our front four and not just from our blitz. That's something we've talked about for years. It's harder to sack a quarterback now than ever before because of the rules change and they can get rid of the ball. Rusty Smith is really good at it, and he is well taught and he only had 14 sacks last year. Getting to him and sacking him is not as prevalent with this game as getting to him and pressuring him. There's a difference. You'd like to get to him and make him get rid of the ball fast. And if you get a sack, that's great, but when they see you, they get rid of the ball. But we do feel like that when big guys get tired, they are not as quick. So we've got to keep fresh guys in the game and one of our keys to this week is to figure out how many plays to play each one of the big guys.
On the third wide receiver spot: There's a group of guys competing for that third receiver spot and that's why we don't have a starter today. We might play two tight ends more because we're not ready to step out and say it's Malcolm [Williams], Brandon [Collins] or James [Kirkendoll]. And once again, it's because of inconsistency. They play great one day, and the next day, they don't. We've had a great camp and we've had one of our best camps, but in some positions we've had too much inconsistency and that's why we don't have a starter.
On Sergio Kindle: Sergio has had a great camp. He's really worked hard and he missed Will [Muschamp] in the spring with his injury. He's been attentive and he's had a great camp. He has really hustled. He has been healthy and most of his work has been at the (strongside) linebacker position. We're really excited about watching him play. I hope it will be a breakout year for him. The past few years have been breakout years for him, but you have to stay healthy, you have to be excited and play well to have a breakout year. One of the real exciting things about football is that you never know. We are all sitting here with our opinions, but we have no clue how some of these guys will respond. I watch them every day, and I recruited them, and I still don't know how they will respond in front of 100,000 fans.
On the season opener: We've been really good in season openers by and large, and last year, we were up 21-3 at halftime and I thought our crowd and team kind of left. Then all of a sudden, we looked up, turned it over a couple of times and they scored a couple of times. I didn't think we were going to lose the game, but we didn't put it away, and that was what we needed to do. It seemed like that was the personality of that team for five weeks. So we're trying to make sure that this bunch is consistently good and they do finish. We've been really hard on this group. I think they are excited about playing. You really pull for this team because they have done everything right. They have worked well enough to play well, so hopefully it will work for us.
On Vondrell McGee: He's powerful. He's 209 pounds and he runs a 4.3. He's really protected the ball well and he's gotten better at the passing game. We're excited about what we've seen from Vondrell. He has worked so hard, and he is tough and durable. He was a guy who just about carried it every time up at Longview. I remember our coaches had watched practice one day and they were really physical and hit him hard, but he didn't even blink and just got right back up and went to work. It will be fun to watch him on Saturday because we've seen him some, but we haven't seen him enough.